Written by Doctor G

Ten Year Old Tantrums

My 10 year old son throws tantrums every time he’s asked to do something he “doesn’t feel like doing.” ie; take a shower, do a chore, etc.. We have an established routine, and he knows the consequences – which we follow through with – and yet, he still falls apart at least 3-4 times a week. Any ideas?

Anonymous, in PA

Can’t you just empathize with your son to the bottom of your soul? Wow, there are times when I would like to throw a good, old-fashioned tantrum if I have to do one more thing! That said, this is not a reasonable behavior to take with him to adulthood, so you’re right to address it.
You and your co-parent should keep in mind that this is likely to improve with age. Impulse control is hard, and does tend to improve some on its own as kids get older. That doesn’t mean you can ignore it in the meantime though!

I have three possible suggestions, and you’ll know which are most likely to succeed with your child.

1. Challenge your son to name emotion and replace the expression.

So first, when he is not in the middle of a freak-out, he tries to make a list of the emotions he feels that lead to these outbursts. After he has calmed down from a tantrum is a good time to get him to put add one or two feelings to this list until he feels he’s got a pretty complete list.

Then ask him to make a list of other ways he can get those feelings out. He may want to use a punching bag to pound out some of these feelings. He may want to run or jump or write or sing. He may feel better by showering or rolling around on his bed. Encourage him to be really creative (as long as it’s free and safe and not food-based).

Then let him try some of these solutions to figure out what works. To stem the tantrum you’re going to have to catch him really early in his downward spiral. Stopping on that path is hard but is a great skill for him to learn. He can do it!

2. Reward him for tantrum-free obedience. I am not suggesting he get a parade in his honor every time he lives up to his responsibilities. However, if he is a kid who likes to work towards a goal you can go the big-kid version of a sticker chart and keep track of each day he gets through in a week as he works to break this habit.

Set up your expectations for him: This week, if you can get through 5 days without losing it, this weekend you get a 2 hour block of time with me to do an activity of your choice (within parental limits). This teaches a great lesson: the more pleasant you are to be around, the more your loved ones want to spend time with you!

Let him know that you’re going to build your expectations over the next 6 weeks so that he can learn that he has control over this habit.

3. Give consequences for the tantrum, separate from the consequences for not doing what he needs to do. By this I mean make it very clear in calm moments that a tantrum will lead to separate consequences later. If he, for example, loses his screen time in the evening if he fails to shower, his tantrum may result in an earlier bedtime, as well as no screen time. Kids are usually practical beings and try to do what benefits them, and avoid what doesn’t. Also be sure to notice out loud when he accomplishes what he’s been asked to do without any drama!

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33 thoughts on “Ten Year Old Tantrums”

  1. This is so interesting and at times, I find myself at the mercy of an irrational almost 11 year old. I definitely find that hunger and being tired plays a big role. I am working on better sleep habits and helping my child understand hunger cues along with smart choices to eat….it has made a big improvement!!

    1. Noting his own inner cues (hunger, fatigue, etc) are crucial skills in building a resilient child. Way to go!

  2. What about when the suggestions you had don’t work? I’ve been doing these things for years. Just had another ten year old fit tonight. He’s quiet right now, but surely, this means he’s busy destroying something important to us (the parents).

  3. My name is Terri I am also having trouble with this exact behavior with my 11 yr old daughter. I have tried so many things. I have offered weekly rewards, punishment later such as no screen time, and I even have made a calander so she is aware of the daily exspectation. The calander worked to some extent but the behaviors always continue. To my knowledge she is a pleasure to have in class and does not have issues at school. What else can I try ?

    1. Terri, I’m sorry that you are dealing with this issue. When the two of you discuss it after a tantrum, what does she say? Can she think of any ways that she could express her frustration without a total meltdown? Or can she take herself to her room and have her meltdown in private? Both of those are useful skills for adults. I’m also hoping that this video might have a few useful suggestions!

      1. I’ ve had similar issues as above and also have tried many things. I’ve also attempted to discuss it with her, and her response is always “I didn’t do anything, I don’t know what you’re talking about” which then leads into yet another tantrum even though we are trying to resolve the previous tantrum. Consequences don’t work, neither do rewards. We’ve done one-on-one time, but she genuinely scares me because we have had to call authorities before because her tantrums get so big that she gets physical with only me. We’ve attempted to get her to voice her emotions, and her therapist even had her make a chart with the “levels” of emotions that she’s supposed to use, but never does even when we bring out. If we bring it out, she gets even more upset. Any thoughts?

        1. She needs some individual therapy to learn more positive coping mechanisms. It sounds as though your approaches are appropriate but they’re not making sense to her.

  4. My 11 year old throws a tantrum every time I ask her to shower.

    I have tried taking away her tv. Then I tried taking away all electronics.

    I let her pick out cute soap, a sponge, and her own shampoo.

    I tried a more positive way and gave her a time frame of 2 hours to complete the task. She flat out told me at bedtime she “forgot” to shower which ended up in electronic loss for the next day.

    In return, she followed me around whining telling me she was sooooo bored because I took away “all her things”.

    I am now afraid to even ask her to shower since I know she will fall on the floor ans scream whyyy! at the top of her lungs. She actually stinks. Help?

    1. This sounds really frustrating. First of all, keep in mind that she probably doesn’t notice her own stink. But this issue is about her listening to you, and she needs to start. So you are going to have to withstand the falling on the floor and the screaming. You are strong enough to handle her tantrum and hold your ground. If you don’t, not only will she suffer socially at school because of her hygiene, she will also quite likely stop listening to you about other things. So walk away from the tantrum but don’t change the rule. I’d recommend turning off your wifi each day until she showers, and turning it back on after she does as one possible simple, daily tactic.

    2. Wow. You are describing my almost 11 year old daughter. In my case we are figuring out she has sensory problems. She panics about water touching her eyes/face. She says it makes her feel out of control. She is the same with lotion touching her palms, or a collar on a shirt. Giant tantrums over what most of us consider nothing. It was soooo frustrating for the longest time because she didn’t communicate what it was that was bothering her. She would just say she didn’t want to or didn’t like taking a shower. So now, as long as I help her wash her hair so she can cover her face, the complaining has significantly improved. I also got her earplugs because she freaks out at the feel of water in her ears. I wish you the best of luck. Tantrums are exhausting.

      1. Kristin,

        This is a great reminder. Thank you for your warm-hearted and spot on suggestion that there is something sensory happening here that this mom may not yet realize.

    3. To Kristin’s point, has your daughter ever had difficulty with other sensory moments? Does she struggle with certain kinds of clothes or bedding or fabrics? Or, has she exhibited this kind of behavior before about other things she doesn’t want to do that aren’t at all about a feeling on her skin?

  5. I’ve tried all of those suggestions and nothing has worked…I’m at a loss with my 11 yr old …I don’t know where she learned that screaming and crying for literally hrs at a time will get you what you want! #frustrated #mom

  6. Hi!
    My 10 year old son freaks out when he is not on time… like missing training for 5 min and refusing to go in because its not right. And then he cant find the dressing room and i say – just change somewhere else in toilet or whatever – he wouldnt do that because its not what the trainer said. And then i explain that sometimes its ok, unexpected obstacles happen from time to time and then you have to do whats best in the moment. That doesnt help at all. So i say- ok then dont go to training lets do something else and then he feels guilty and knows that its not right and that makes him even more stressed. And he cries and screams loudly during this whole thing. :/ i dont know how to teach him to adapt to unusual situations. When the stress kicks in then he is like in a different spacetime and i cant help him. But at school all is good. And mostly at home too. Though there can be a major tantrum if i refuse screen time for a reason that he doesnt understand. I dont know how to help him..

    1. It sounds like he is having trouble when his schedule is disrupted (even when he is the one disrupting it). Can the two of you discuss this when he’s NOT late for something? Also, it sounds like any solution you offer he will reject. So stop fixing it and ask him what he thinks he should do. Ask him for a few options, then ask him to choose one. Then, however it turns out, praise him for working through the problem. Failure is not the enemy, getting stuck and freaking out without moving forward is the enemy. Also, I’d like to encourage you to have some empathy for how he’s feeling. Just reflecting back to him, “I hear your anger/embarrassment/shame/frustration. I know how it is to feel like that” can make a big difference.

  7. I am struggling with my 10 yr old. I used to cut hair. I dread his haircuts! He throws a tantrum telling me he is itchy, and makes this simple and quick process and long- drawn out ordeal! His fit tonight included stomping, yelling, and telling me how mean I am. So I quit the hair cut in the middle of it, and told him I wasn’t even going to try and cut his hair acting like that. He has since calmed down and re-emerged from his room with a little bit better of an attitude. Sometimes during his meltdowns, I simply tell him to go to his room. This behavior isn’t acceptable and will not be tolerated! I am at a loss for trying to correct this behavior though! Young kids that cannot follow rules/directions, will be unemployable young adults with no future! PLEASE HELP!

    1. I understand your concern. Is this behavior specific to haircuts? If so, can you give him some more control over the how and when of his haircut? He’s expressing himself a little disrespectfully, and that isn’t ok, for sure. But are you listening to him? His message is important, even while you correct his delivery.

  8. My 10 year old daughter is behaving similarly to all of the kids mentioned here. If she doesn’t get her way, if she gets woken up from her sleep, doesn’t want to do chores, etc. she throws a horrific tantrum. It has gotten so bad that there have been a few instances where she hits me or whoever crosses her. She gets violent at times and doesn’t listen to anyone. After her meltdown/tantrum I’ve asked her why she acted the way she did and she never says anything, just stays quiet. I’ve tried spanking her, taking electronics away, etc. and nothing seems to work. She has thrown tantrums because she doesn’t want to go to school to the point where she has sat in the office until I take her home. Any suggestions on what this could be or should I consult this with her pediatrician?

    1. It sounds like your daughter has frustration that she has no idea how to manage or express in a way that is socially acceptable. Or does she sometimes manage to tell you about a problem without having a tantrum or explosion? Talking to her doctor is a good start, and so is talking to a school counselor or psychologist who can help her express what she’s thinking and feeling.

  9. My son is genuinely a calm and obedient kid. I have little to no problem with him at home as long as I can give him a heads up about what our day will consist of. He may not like what we are doing but he puts up with it and we move about our day smoothly. But at school it is a completely different story.. it is like his coping skills go straight out the window. Issues of bullying have been addressed so there is none of that going on and he is not struggling academically (in fact he is very smart and a vigorous rule follower) but sometimes the littlest thing can go wrong in his day and it will snowball till he is having a melt down in the middle of class.

    A prime example is today. He ran from class and locked himself in the nurses office. I was called and had to go pick him up from school. Unfortunately he overheard the teacher talking to me on the phone saying he was just having a challenging day and was struggling. So when I picked him up and asked him what happened. That’s all he would parrot to me “It was just a challenging day. I was struggling.” When I tried to get him to expand on that he would cry or fuss that I was being mean to him. I tried to ask him why he ran out of the class but he refused to talk about it. He’s calm now, doing homework. I can tell he is still upset but keeping it together. He was super upset when o told him tv and computer time was taken away from him for his actions in school but beyond a little bit of crying he hasn’t said a word about it since.

    I can feel he is upset inside though and is on the edge of wanting to start a verbal disagreement but I’m not allowing for it ( staying calm, taking low and soft and shutting down the conversation before he starts to get upset and moving on to something else).

    I don’t really know what to do though. I’m at a lose on how to help him cope better at school since I’m not there. He can’t be allowed to throw fits obviously but beyond just talking it out and punishment for his behavior at home, I just don’t know what to do.

    1. It sounds like he is having anxiety or some other major mood trigger at school. His desire to pretend this didn’t happen afterwards is developmentally pretty normal for kids and young teens. He needs a safe place where he can describe his feelings – that may mean going to see a counselor for a while. If he is younger (I’m sorry, I’m not seeing that you mentioned his age) then some play therapy may help a great deal – he may be better able to show what he’s feeling by having an action figure experience it rather than tell you his story in the first person.

      Your empathy for him is admirable, and so is your desire to hold him accountable. The first step is to find the resources so that he can explain what is happening in his head when this goes on that makes him feel so vulnerable or upset.

  10. My almost 11 year old son throws tantrums when we make him get off his computer. Tonight was the worst he pushed my husband several times pulled all covers off his bed, broke his toy in pieces and screaming and thrashing in bed.. he’s calm now but we don’t know how to deal with this….he’s obsessed with Minecraft

    1. That is so frustrating for all of you! Can you give him a Minecraft break as a chance to detox? It sounds like he might need a few days or a week without any screens (except homework) in order for you to see if there is a difference in his behavior. I’d recommend that you make a new arrangement with him – that he is limited in time and ALSO that he must handle turning it off as gracefully as possible or he will spend less (and less) time using the screen. Does that make sense?

  11. Thank you, Dr. G, for your guidance and insights. We have an 11 year-old son who is often non-complaint and screams when we ask him to do things like clean his room or help set the table. We’ve tried punishments and rewards without seeing any improvement. What mystifies us as parents is that he’s perfectly compliant at church and school for his teachers. No behavioral issues there at all. We.don’t understand how he can turn off the acting out in other social forums but scream and even be physically aggresive with us at home. Thank you in advance for any insights, Leo and Becky

    1. This may be because he is doing a great job holding himself together and regulating his behavior when he’s at school… and just loses that ability in the safety of your home. Can you talk to him when he’s not in the middle of a meltdown? Can you react calmly but firmly when he needs to do something for you, and not allow him to do anything else until it’s done?

  12. I have an 11 year old daughter who is amazing in school and has excellent behavior for the most part. When she is home she is usually pretty good as far as chores. She has issues with sleeping in her own bed. She throws a tantrum and cries hysterically for at least an hour. After I spank her or punish her she calms down. For the last few years she has also been having issues with clothes and haircuts. She likes to wear the same outfits over and over and when you make her wear something new or out of the ordinary she has a fit. She cries and states she cant do it. Same thing with her hair. She cries for at least an hour after I simply trim an inch off her long hair. Her father and I have tried everything and we just don’t know what else to do besides take her to a psychologist. PLEASE HELP any advise is appreciated.

    1. Sarah,

      First of all I have to recommend that you do not spank. I hear that it has worked for you to stop the crying you dislike, but I need to stress that exhaustive medical research shows it is not a healthy discipline strategy for children in American culture. It leaves them feeling isolated, rejected and that hitting is a viable solution for disappointment or anger.

      That said, I’m wondering if your daughter might have some symptoms of anxiety or sensory issues. Whether or not that is the case, I totally agree with you and her father – she does need to see a psychologist on a regular basis so that she can learn the skills she needs to communicate her concerns without tantrums and so that you and he can learn behavior management techniques that work for all of you.

      All the best,
      Dr. G

  13. Hello Dr G, my 10 year old son has been having tantrums ever since he turned four. It all started when my daughter was born. He has always been very bad at expressing his feelings. I have done therapy with him, OT when he was diagnosed with Sensory processing disorder, and he was always the perfect child in those environments. He has had his issues at school but never the type of tantrums he throws at home. I can understand that he feels comfortable with us and he knows no matter what we will always love him so he can act out. My concern is because we have tried so many things and It is really hard for us a couple to handle his tantrums. It really puts us on an edge and we can’t handle it anymore, I really loose my temper and I feel frustrated every single time. I just don’t know what to do anymore!

    1. I completely understand your frustration. It is great that he is grounded in your love, but these aren’t healthy or successful lifelong coping skills that he is exhibiting, and it’s damaging your adult relationship as well. It’s time for some family therapy, I think, if you haven’t tried that yet. If you have, ask your therapist for deeper or more extensive solutions, including looking into cognitive behavioral therapy. I hope it helps, you’re absolutely right to reach out about this.

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